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Ferret the Paperback hits the Airwaves

11 Sep

It’s taken me a lot of page wrangling to get there, but finally Ferret is coming out in paperback!

The release date is set at Friday 15th September, available on Amazon.

This is the same version as the e-book, with the exception of a single pesky comma that shouldn’t have been there. As a perfectionist, I saw the opportunity to remove it and did so. The biggest issue I had with the e-book was that the illustrations were not inline with the text as I originally envisaged them. To my (uncultured) mind this spoiled the flow of the story somewhat. That’s now fixed. As a bonus there are 7 x vignettes which aren’t in the e-book. They’re not exactly new as they’ve all been extracted from the full page illustrations. Overall, in my opinion, they add to the Ferret feel.

Personally I’m truly delighted with the finished article. It does justice to Richard’s crazy artwork in a way that the e-book didn’t.

Enjoy the read – it’s an awesome adventure!

Phillip Legard

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The Perils of Print-on-Demand

9 Aug

I’ve always loved reading, be it comics or novels and from a young age I could often be found lying in the corner of the lounge, head in the pages of a book. My mum was an English teacher, so Enid Blyton was strictly verboten – as in her work was not allowed in the house.  Everything on the home bookshelf was game, including my dad’s many volumes of very rude Rugby Songs, some of which my brother and I learned and then recited in public, causing much parental embarrassment. My early leaning was always towards science fiction, thanks mainly to Gerry Anderson; as a teen, I moved into fantasy, powered by the discovery of Michael Moorcock, Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons. Sometime in the mid 70s, I bought the Lord of the Rings as a three volume set, having begun reading it around a friend’s house. It was the first printed book I’d ever held in my hand that totally blew me away. If you search Google for ‘LOTR book cover’ there are hundreds of images to choose from, covering many reprints in many languages. The set that I had was similar to the illustration here – simple, understated, yet profound in its symbology. When I held the book in my hand, moving my finger around the one ring and the Dark Lord’s incantation, it felt as though the novel was possessed by an arcane power.

The second novel I encountered that had a presence was Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Colour of Magic‘ and shortly afterwards ‘The Light Fantastic‘. In both cases, it was Josh Kirby’s artwork that initially hooked me. Pratchett’s writing was fresh and funny, it blew away the cobwebs of traditional fantasy, which had become trapped within its own framework of stale plots and staid characters. As I read both books, I felt as though I was holding a complete package that oozed magical charm. [As an aside, Harry Potter has never done it for me, but I have a couple of friends who had a similar experience with some of the hardback editions to the point where they couldn’t put the books down!]

When I set out to present The Ferret Files, I did so as an independent author with full control over the internal artwork, the contents and the cover. I was intent on creating something that spoke to the reader before the pages were ever turned. Why then, as a massive consumer of paperback and hardback books for most of my life, with a vision to create something truly awesome, did I opt to publish Ferret as an e-book only? That’s a question that’s not only haunted me for the early part of 2017, but it was also the most asked question by my readers. One of the primary drivers for going digital was a fear that the original artwork wouldn’t scale down for print. Richard’s full page drawings are A3, and they’re very detailed. Astonishing, in fact. Hence I shied away from producing a physical print version because I didn’t want to create an inferior product. What I didn’t know when I set out on my journey is that one of the limitations of digital is that images cannot be embedded in with the text. As a result, the e-book didn’t fully realise my dream.

Print-on-Demand

Having worked in IT for most of my life, keeping up with trends as they emerge, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water and remedy the situation with a Print-on-Demand (PoD) version of Ferret. I mean, how difficult could it possibly be? The question was posed on a Friday afternoon three weeks ago. I now have the answer…

PoD is exactly what the title suggests. An electronic copy of your work is uploaded to a central location and when a customer presses the button to buy, a copy is printed off within the country of purchase and despatched within a few days. I figured this was likely to be expensive, but as it happens I was wrong. As a printing methodology PoD is cost effective up to around 50 copies of a book. After that, traditional print wins the day. I had a quick look around Amazon to see what other authors are doing, and two options became immediately obvious. There’s Amazon’s own offering called CreateSpace and there’s Ingram Spark. As an Amazon subsidiary, I decided that CreateSpace must be pretty good so they made the cut. Ingram Spark, as an independent author platform also ticked all my boxes – the downside being that it costs $$$ to create a title (unless you happen to be a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, which I am). I came across a third option, a site called Lulu, which I also wanted to explore. A comparison of the three options suggests that Lulu is the more expensive of the trio in terms of the cost to print a book, with CreateSpace and Ingram Spark costing roughly the same. On the plus side, the Lulu site has a lot of help to offer, as well as some very useful and active forums. Most importantly of all, I found and downloaded a free A5 template with instructions (go here: http://www.lulu.com/create/books and click ‘Download Template’). Once you have this piece of the jigsaw puzzle, everything else becomes so much easier. I wish I’d found this link at the beginning, rather than two weeks in.

Lulu allows you to format the book and cover, do some basic checks and then you’re off to the races. It’s very much down to you, with no human checks performed. Ingram Spark inserts a human check at each of the major stages of production, so is a little bit slower. CreateSpace follows the same format. Both of these services aid in preventing mistakes around the formatting of the interior and the cover, which believe me are easy to make.

I’m not going to go into massive detail about everything PoD related, but here are the basics.

The Interior

  • The cost of a printed book is determined by the number of pages it contains and the weight of the paper used. If it’s in colour, then it costs more than black and white. The addition of b/w images takes up page space but doesn’t affect the overall cost.
  • A page must have margins top & bottom and left & right. There’s also a gutter margin, which is where the spine is located. The Lulu template shows pages side by side, with mirror margin set. This is very useful when determining what a book will look like. The minimum margins all around are 0.25″ (6.33mm), but it’s usual to use 0.5″ (12.66mm). This is what I settled on. The size of the gutter margin is determined by the total number of pages in the book – the more pages, the thicker the spine overall, the larger the gutter.
  • It appears that different countries have different standards for retail book sizes, so your template will be determined by where you live in the world. CreateSpace likes a 6″ by 9″ template, which is standard for the USA but also applies to the UK and Europe. Ingram Spark and Lulu also operate in these countries but want me to print using an A5 template (5.9″ by 8.51″). Fortunately, the Lulu template allows the page size to be changed with ease, and the book insides adjust accordingly.
  • As a tip, always use a page break to break between pages, and not hard returns – otherwise changing the page size may catch you out. Page Break Odd / Page Break Even proved very useful with the large illustrations.
  • The choice of font is down to you. Times New Roman is a favourite, but anything that’s San Serif will do (Lulu lists the standard options). Ideally, the text should be set to 11 or 12 point. The smaller the text, the less pages you’ll have and the cheaper your book will be to produce. However, going down to 10 point will make the finished article very difficult for seniors to read. As an example, A5 format Ferret with 12 point Times New Roman clocks in at 420 pages. Cutting the text size down to 11 point results in a novel that’s 356 pages. The difference in Lulu production costs between the two is £1, or £6.79 vs £7.80 to me. CreateSpace uses a 6″ by 9″ template, which is slightly larger than A5. Here, 12 point Times New Roman produces a book with 356 pages.
  • Images can be added onto a page and embedded in the text, but they must be 300dpi. For Ferret I embedded the 9 x vignettes in with the text and then set each of the 4 x large illustration on a page on their own, with a blank side on the rear. The large illustrations have the margins set to 0.25″, which allowed me to scale them as large as possible. A massive tip if you’re using Word: size your images in the drawing package of your choice at 300dpi then import the image without adjusting its size. Any size alterations made within Word will reduce the image quality down to 72dpi.
  • All three services require the interior to be in PDF format. Lulu and CreateSpace accept Microsoft Word and will happily do the conversion for you. Ingram Spark requires a PDF. However, as I soon discovered, not all PDF convertors are created equal. I messed about for a couple of days experimenting with Lulu and finally concluded that the optimum results with embedded images are obtained by using the Word ‘Save As’ function, and selecting PDF. The fonts must be embedded in the document, which is an ISO save option. Allowing Lulu to do the conversion results in the large single page illustrations being rendered unviewable.
  • Finally, as part of the distribution data you’ll need an ISBN number. You can obtain one yourself which costs $$$, or allow Lulu / CreateSpace to allocate one for you. The disadvantage of a free ISBN is that it is not transferable between services, so I’d recommend purchasing your own. If you’re also going to create an ebook, you’ll need a separate ISBN, as the number is media specific. In the UK, it’s cheaper to buy a pack of 10 ISBNs than to purchase just 2. Whichever option you choose, the ISBN must appear on the inside cover, on the copyright page.

The Cover

  • All three services have the capability to create covers for you. As I already have some rather nifty artwork for the front cover, I opted to upload it. I messed about for a couple of days trying various settings – initially I tried to upload just the front cover and use Lulu’s inbuilt templates for the back cover and spine, but matching the colours proved to be impossible. In the end I had to download an evaluation copy of Adobe PhotoShop and edit together a full wraparound cover. The end result is very pleasing, but if maths makes your brain hurt I suggest you either: a) get someone else to do it for you; or b) use the auto-build templates as provided. The CreateSpace and Ingram Spark editors looks very snazzy, but I didn’t go there on the grounds that I’d already taken the decision to make a full A5 jacket.
  • If you’re using your own artwork for the cover, it needs to be slightly larger than the printed page by 3.3mm per side (this is called the bleed and will be cut off in the manufacturing process). The full wraparound cover for Lulu’s A5 (148mm wide by 210mm high) version of Ferret is (151.3mm + spine + 151.3mm) by 216.6mm. The width of the spine is based on the number of pages the completed work contains, so cannot be accurately calculated until the page count is known. For Ferret this works out at 20.4mm. The size for Ingram Spark is identical.
  • The spine is intended to bend where the covers meet, so has an area each side of the fold that should not be printed on. A gap of 0.0625″ (0.15875mm) either side of the spine must be left blank. This caught me out with CreateSpace, who flagged up the Ferret logo as being too large. As I was unaware of this potential issue until it was brought up, I’m pretty sure that the proof copy I ordered from Lulu is going to be wrong (update – it’s arrived and it’s out by about 0.5mm, which I can live with – yippee!).
  • If you intend your work to be available to resellers, then it requires a barcode on the back cover, which contains the ISBN number. CreateSpace and Ingram Spark will helpfully add this for you when you upload the artwork or use their cover creator. With Lulu and a full wraparound cover, you have to follow the links to create a barcode which must then be cut & pasted onto the back cover.

Once the uploads are completed, all that remains is to order a proof copy of your work and wait for it to arrive. Mine turned up yesterday and there are a couple of small amendments that need to be made (my name is ever-so-slightly wonky on the spine and I discovered a missing ‘‘ in one of the later chapters), but otherwise we’re good to go. All in all, my experience of PoD has been really good if somewhat drawn out, but then I enjoy learning new things so it’s not a hardship. Plus I have a genuine enthusiasm for creating printed works, so the roadblocks thrown up in front of me were only ever going to be driven over. I’m really pleased with the results and unless an earthquake strikes Ferret will be out as a POD novel by the end of August.

If you have a project that’s underway and you need any encouragement I’m happy to hear from you…

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Exciting Times…

28 Jul

One of many items on my agenda for this year is to produce a print-on-demand copy of Ferret. I used a third party company to assemble the e-book, mainly because my head was full of other things at the time and I didn’t have the space to learn yet another way to format text. With hindsight, I wish I’d explored all of the options available and done it myself, because one of the things I’ve always found exciting is holding a finished, quality document in my hand, even if it is virtual. We are where we are, as the saying goes.

For the record, I have no issues with the quality of the e-book; I do, however, have a few issues with the format, the biggest of which is the (non) placement of graphics inline with the text.  I’ll cover the whole print-on-demand experience in a follow-up article, as I learned a lot of tricks that I’d like to pass on.

For now, here’s a preview of the finished cover:

I have a proof copy winging its way through the ether. Hopefully everything will be just fine and I’ll be able to make Ferret available in printed form within the next few weeks. I’m really excited to see the finished article as the e-book didn’t do justice to the artwork. Fingers crossed that those big pictures aren’t one messy splodge!

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Shovels for Sale

21 Dec

snow-woveI’m busy learning how to market e-books, having done very little research into the subject prior to publishing my first novel. I have a very curious nature, so reading and learning new things is not something I run away from – rather I run towards the opportunity. Having spent around ten days investigating how the e-book / online publishing business works, I’m reminded of something that Mark Twain once said:

During the gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.

Although the odd person struck it rich during the California gold rush of the 1840s & 50s, those who made a ton of money were the people selling the tools with which to locate, extract and refine gold. I’m guessing approx 1:10,000 struck it rich, whereas all 10,000 required a shovel.

The prospecting business model can be applied to many areas of life. Back in the early days of the Internet, there was a rush for dot.com domain names. Everyone was busy registering everything in sight, in the hope of striking it lucky and selling their domain name on to a big company that was slow off the mark, thus pocketing $million$. There were one or two notable sales made before the rules were changed to make domain squatting an offense, but when the dust cleared the folks that made a mint out of the domain name gold rush were the registrars not the squatters.

What I’ve discovered in my foray into online publishing is that there are a heck of a lot of peeps out there in internet land flogging shovels of every shape and size. Naturally, they’re not called shovels, but that’s definitely what they are. For instance:

  • A WordPress blog is free. However, if I want a snazzy domain name rather than domain.wordpress, that’s $20 a year please.
  • If I want to make any mods to the standard WordPress code, I have to move to a dedicated server (for security reasons). That’s about $5 a month. I’m thinking of doing this anyway, as WordPress won’t allow me to host a shop.
  • The mods in question are PHP code extensions such as email address sign-up. WordPress does the sign-up basics for free, but it’s not possible to push the option at the casual reader. Whilst I can get a basic slab of pop-up code for free, I can’t install it. If I move the website, then the pop-up will contain ads from the creator. In order to get rid of these and have full control over page placement that’s more $$$ please. The full service from a reputable email list provider BTW is $10+ a month, depending on numbers, so the free option is attractive cost wise, it just looks a bit cheap.
  • salesfunnelWhy do I want to create an email list? Well… according to research, most people visit a website once and don’t go back. Getting their email address is a means to continually poke them remotely with super offers until they cave in. Get my other novel for free. Get the first book in the trilogy for free. Blah, blah. An email list is your list of valued customers, and as an author it’s your most valuable asset next to your published works(s). I’ve visited the blogs of other authors to see what they’re doing, and indeed the successful ones are prompting visitors to sign-on to the mailing list. In sales terms, this is known as the ‘Sales Funnel’ and it’s the modern equivalent of making sure you get a prospective customer’s phone number before they leave the shop. After that, it’s simply a case of hassling them in the nicest possible way until they eventually surrender to your charms.
  • Next we get onto likes and reviews.  Just like with Twitter followers, I can go to a dodgy site and buy tranches of likes for a Facebook page. Personally, I think that’s cheating. The Ferret Files Facebook page has quite a few likes, which were accrued via Facebook paid advertising. It’s working out at $15 per 1,000 likes, but the likes are real not made up. Reviews are more tricky. I can buy 100+ 5***** reviews on Amazon fairly cheaply. Or, I can go for free reviews which take an age to get back and in truth could be only ** or ***. Again, I think that buying reviews is cheating, although it’s very tempting. Certainly better than no reviews. As you probably realise by now, it’s impossible to trust Twitter followers, Facebook likes and Amazon reviews, but customers do (including me).
  • There are a multitude of self-help books that detail what I’ve described above and how to do it. Everything I’ve written about can be discovered for free, but that takes time and time is $$$. Buying someone else’s experiences is yet more $$$ please.

nice-shovelI haven’t even covered  the shovels that are for sale prior to writing a novel. You can buy advice on: better writing, better structure, how to develop characters, killer beginnings, killer endings, pace, etc. In fact, it looks to me like there are vastly more people out there selling shovels for writing and publishing than there are authors successfully selling golden novels. Perhaps that what I should do next: create another shovel.  It’ll have to be a very pretty shovel that no one else has yet made, full of fantastic new ideas on how to do all of the above at very little expense.

What do you think? Does the world of online publishing need more shovels, or is there not enough gold out there to warrant it?

 

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A strange few weeks

16 Dec

davinci_ferretIt’s been a strange few weeks.  Due to a series of cock-ups, The Ferret Files was launched on Amazon and then on Apple way before the press campaign was ready. In fact, the people who are organising the release still haven’t got their act together after five weeks worth of messing about. Given it’s Christmas, this is kind of understandable but at the same time unacceptable. Hence I had to just get on with it.

I’ve discovered that this requires two different hats: the writer’s cap and the author’s fedora. I wore the writer’s cap for months on end, staring out the window when plotting story lines, and using it to scoop cold water onto my keyboard when the keys were sizzling from an obsessive dump of ideas. I’m done with the cap for now. It’s onto the fedora, which means I get to talking about the novel and the characters in it, rather than the process of writing.

What I’ve found is that I have the weirdest feelings when it comes to Ferret and friends. Now they’re in the public domain, they’re no longer exclusively my characters: suddenly, they belong to the readers as well. Everyone who meets Ferret will have a slightly different take on who he is. The same applies to Cyrano, Marcus and Tristan, Damien and Eric, Flamen and Sir Edward, and Marianne and Juliet. In a way it’s liberating to set the cast free, but it also places a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Their stories are not yet finished: we’ve still got a way to go to find out what happens to them all. I’ve plotted a trilogy of books with the same core cast. I know roughly where we’re headed, but not the fine detail. There are also three short stories which take place between books two and three. Bob will play a greater part in these tales. The characters whose arcs I’m really looking forwardxmas-ferret to developing are the hard-done-to juniors: Eric, Rajesh and Xara. And of course the centurion. Boy, are we all in for a surprise with him.

It took me a long time to get Ferret to a degree of polished that I can live with. I’ve downloaded quite a few cheap e-books and the level of finish is not something I’d be happy with.  But then I have a history of producing quality output. If I lend my name to something, it will be good. Anyone who buys into The Ferret Files is buying into a world full of crazy people and cracked ideas. Once you read it, you’ll get that. For a long time I wondered about writing under a pseudonym. Outside of my life as a writer and author, I have an IT consultancy to run. In the end I felt that writing under a different name was the wrong thing to do. I wrote Ferret. I’m proud of my achievement. And it’s too late to back out now. It’s a done deal.

If there’s anything you’d like to know about Ferret and friends, drop me an email at: Phillip@detectingconsultant.com. I’ll answer the best questions in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, have a great Christmas y’all…

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Off to the Races

30 Nov

ferret-files-cover-smlWith the final set of tweeks out of the way we’re off to the races. The Ferret Files will be available to purchase from your usual friendly ebook retailers by the end of this week.

A quick check of Amazon and its already there.

Now, how do I sign the first edition of an ebook? All suggestions gratefully received…

 

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Those Final Tweeks

23 Nov

epub-logoI recently received The Ferret Files back from my lovely packaging pals in XML format, so we’re nearly there now. The only thing I’m not 100% happy with is the rendering of the artwork. When it comes to physical print, which I fully intend to follow through on, the 8 x vignettes will be in with the text. For e-book, this isn’t possible if I want reflowing text enabled (the text has to sit top/bottom of the illustrations). I don’t really see this as an issue. Or didn’t…

The pics as submitted were trimmed to size, for wraparound text. As soon as they’re used in the e-book at this size, various readers try to adjust the pics for best fit. The result is best described as ‘a hall of mirrors’, with an end result that being a stickler for detail, I can’t live with. We’re currently working through getting this right. In the process of checking that the e-book is typeset correctly, I discovered a handful of errors with the text.

*Shock*

*Horror!*

superhero-dry-cleanersNot that I’m obsessive, but I’m going to have to read the damn thing again now, from cover to cover, to make sure there’s nothing else I’ve missed.  Unless I trust in my one proven superpower.  When it comes to testing IT, I have this ability to zero in on any problem straightaway. I discovered it one lunchtime back in the day, when a pal of mine, who’d just been intensively testing an identikit program for the previous few weeks gave it to me to play with.  Within 10 seconds I’d broken it. If I recall, there were 8 x face shapes, 8 x noses, 8 x ears, 8 x eyes, 8 x mouths and 8 x hairstyles to choose from. That’s 262,000 combinations. Only one combination didn’t work and I found it with 6 button presses.

Here’s the question: do I trust in my superpower to have found the only 3 errors in the manuscript, or do I read Ferret again? What would you do?

(Seriously, who’d be an indie author…)

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